The BBC came out fighting today, issuing a surprisingly blunt attack on the Government following the publication of a green paper on its future.
The BBC statement said that the green paper, which has been published today, would “appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC” and that this “would be bad for Britain and would not be the BBC that the public has known and loved for over 90 years.”
The green paper calls for a fundamental review of the size of the BBC, what it does and the way it is funded and casts doubt on whether the BBC should continue to strive to be “all things to all people”. It will be subject to public consultation before an expected bill or white paper is put before Parliament, probably next year.
Launching the green paper in the House of Commons, culture secretary John Whittingdale described the current licence-fee model as “regressive” and even suggested that the BBC could be ultimately funded by subscription, although not in the “short term”.
He said that the green paper will look at four key areas: the overall purpose of the BBC, what services and content it should provide, how the BBC should be funded and how it should be governed and regulated.
“One key task is to assess whether the idea of universality still holds water. With so much more choice, we must at least question whether the BBC should try to be all things to all people,” said Whittingdale.
The BBC statement reacted angrily to the proposals, saying: “The BBC is a creative and economic powerhouse for Britain. The starting point for any debate should be – how can a strong BBC benefit Britain even more at home and abroad? The BBC has embraced change in the past and will continue to do so in the future, and we will set out our own proposals in September.
“We believe that this green paper would appear to herald a much diminished, less popular BBC. That would be bad for Britain and would not be the BBC that the public has known and loved for over 90 years.
“It is important that we hear what the public want. It should be for the public to decide whether programmes like Strictly or Bake Off, or stations like Radio One or Two, should continue.
“As the director-general said on Tuesday, the BBC is not owned by its staff or by politicians, it is owned by the public. They are our shareholders. They pay the licence-fee. Their voice should be heard the loudest.”
It is a sign of the BBC’s anger with the Government that it has taken the unprecedented step of deploying such undiplomatic language.
As RadioTimes.com wrote yesterday, the BBC is said to be particularly angry with the examination of its scale, believing that these matters have been decided with the funding deal it struck last week. Under the agreement, the licence-fee will be linked to Consumer Price Index [CPI] inflation which should lessen the burden of paying for licence-fees for the over 75s.
Whittingdale was also attacked in the House of Commons by shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant who called his opposite number “profoundly unpatriotic” for his attempt to “diminish” the Corporation.
Bryant also accused Whittingdale of fatally undermining the universality of the licence-fee with a move to curb the BBC’s ambitions and introduce new funding models.
“I believe this process has been utterly shabby from the outset,” Bryant said.
However, Whittingdale’s speech today had a silver lining for the BBC.
He confirmed that the independent report compiled by David Perry QC into decriminalisation of non-payment of the licence-fee had concluded it would not be appropriate under the current funding model.
The BBC had feared that such a move would lead to greater licence-fee evasion.